Friday, October 25, 2013

I did it

I made a new site.  I will be using it instead.

This space will remain as archive.  And, y'know, in case I decide I hate the new one.

Space-Born Jellyfish Hate Life on Earth

I've been feeling very linkspammy these days, haven't I?

I love this idea:

From an article on re-reading Xanth (and why you probably shouldn't).

If you found the article, like I did, from the Radish Reviews Friday linkspam page, you probably also found the set of re-titled books from some dude's childhood which I totally loved when he was retitling Dragonflight as "Mary Sue Gets a Dragon," but then I got to "Child Porn is Totally Acceptable in Some Cultures," and he picked the cover of Dragon on a Pedastal and NO NO NO NO


You can eviscerate all the Xanth books you like, as long as by "all" you mean "not Dragon on a Pedestal," because I still have that book memorized.  And yeah I know it's just as skeezy as all the rest with the misogyny and rape threats because it is Piers Anthony but YOU CAN'T HAVE THAT BOOK.  There are thirty-seven other books you can have.  This one is MINE.

So, um, onward with the linking.  How about this lovely, sad, funny short on The Toast?

Or this much longer narrative about biracial cultural identity, especially this bit—

I continued showing off my Indian jewelry and making grand, historic claims about Hinduism as if the culture were my own. I think it even got worse after the trip, given that now I had been to the “homeland” and convinced my friends I could speak with even more authority. But that summer I went to a new camp, and met a girl whose father was vaguely Buddhist and who named his baby son Jai, the male version of my name. She was so excited to find me, and insisted that after camp she would bring her dad into New York and we’d all go get Indian food. 

 I assumed this wouldn’t happen, but a few months later I found myself in one of the basement Indian restaurants on 6th Street, trying to make recommendations off the menu. The restaurant was one I chose, at random, but asserted was the best. I knew samosas, and naan, but the curries all seemed the same to me. My friend, airy blonde curls popping out of her ponytail, said I would definitely know what was best. I looked up at her dad, who leaned down to me and whispered “try the korma, I think you’d like it.” The jig was up.
—because holy shit that sounds like me.

There are a lot of other things worth reading on the Radish Review page.  A piece about how the technology of film was developed for white people, and thus ill-suited for photographing other skin tones.  Because Technology is Not Value-Neutral.  Also an article that mostly exists so it can be titled Space-Born Jellyfish Hate Life On Earth.  I mention it here so that I can title my post that, too.  It's the gift that keeps on giving.  But the list exists already, so there's not much point in replicating it, link for link, here.

Also, since I spent so much time recently redesigning my website, and then a blog I read also went through a redesign, it makes me want to redo this.  Except any of the blogger templates would just look like variants of blogger templates and I like this best out of my options here.  I could move my blog to my official site but that's a terrible idea and will never happen.  I could either try to import this all over to WordPress or start a new one or something there, which gives me access to better templates.  Except I think that what I want is to make this look like a magazine and not a blog except it IS a blog and not a magazine and moving addresses is awkward for everyone and why would I bother?

But they're so pretty!

There's a pretty good chance that I'm going to be posting a link to a new blog soon...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Once upon a time I would have told you that Glee was the best show on television.  Even the years-old memory of some episodes is enough to move me to awe.  That speech that Kurt's dad gives to Finn when their families are moving in together—yes, it's got that after school special sheen, but the acting and the words are heartfelt, and they're words that need to be said.  And you know, because it's Glee, they follow that with a rousing rendition of some pop song I've already forgotten.  Which is exactly what I want in, well, everything, really.

But the magic faded.  I stopped watching after that godawful Christmas episode that managed to be ridiculously boring AND offensive AND it made no sense.  I remember looking over at my roommates trying to verify that yes, really, this was happening.  And even though the next few episodes raised the bar again, I'd lost my taste for the show.

I know people who still watch Glee, and sometimes they link to articles and fan reactions, and one of them pointed me here:

(There's also a post about Blaine and passing, which we all know is my favorite subject ever.)

It makes me want to watch Glee again.  It actually makes me want to go back to the beginning and watch ALL THE GLEE so I can be part of the conversation.  Because apparently if you want me to watch something, the best thing you can do is subject it to detailed analysis, especially from the standpoint of gender, race, and sexuality.

Which is funny to me, because one of the more common complaints about this kind of writing is that it takes all the fun out of the show.  It's just entertainment is the rallying cry.  Stop taking it so seriously.  It's as if someone took away their cookies and replaced them with brussels sprouts and I do sort of agree.  Academic analysis of popular culture is sort of like brussels sprouts. And I love brussels sprouts.  I love taking things seriously.  I like my games and books and tv shows better when I can look at them like this. 

And now I need to see how many back seasons of Glee are on Hulu.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Old Photos

I was taught history much the way I was taught about foreign cultures.  Historical events were put into context of cultural beliefs, expectations, norms, etc of the time in which they occurred.  Which is not something I object to, but it also came with flavor of making people from the past sort of exotic.  Look at all the strange beliefs and rules they had back then!

We tend to other our ancestors.  We are colonizers of our own past eras, replacing what we see as outlandish and barbaric beliefs and practices with our better, modern ones.  And along the way, we also construct our image of them to suit the story of progress we want to tell.  And as long as we're reaching back far enough, there aren't any people around to object, to stand up for their own subjectivity.  They're dead.

Which is why I am so stunned by many of the digitally recolored old photographs that have been surfacing online.  Old black-and-white photos of people in stiff poses and funny fashions are easy to other.  But not every old photo fits that mold.  And sometimes, just the addition of color is enough to take a civil war photograph and make it into a Rolling Stone cover, or a twitter avatar.  Looking at these faces without the distancing effect of time makes them uncomfortably real.  I am forced to grant them more subjectivity than I am used to giving.

Lewis Powell, 1865.  Photograph by Alexander Gardner
(unknown coloring credit)


1.  You know what's especially awesome to me about the word Latin@?  I always read it first as "Latina," and then catch myself and think, "oh no, the @ means it's dudes, too."  Which is, like, the opposite of all other group nouns.

Now, Adventures in EXPENSIVE Medicine!

My followup appointment with sports medicine did not produce any more answers.  The previous diagnosis no longer seems appropriate, and no new diagnosis has been found.  So I'm scheduled for an MRI on Wednesday to find out more.

What I know about MRIs can be condensed into a one minute YouTube supercut of all the medical dramas I used to watch.  That, and they're ridiculously expensive.  Like, all-the-superlatives-you-can-think-of expensive.  An MRI is bringing out the big guns.  When the doctor said, "If we did an MRI we could be sure if it's the muscle or the bone," I just assumed he'd follow that with something like, "but we'll do _______ before we have to go that far."  So I waited for him to suggest something else.  He didn't.  I was very confused.

And by that time it was 4:30 on a Friday and there wasn't anyone to do the scheduling, so I went home and repeated I'm getting an MRI to anyone who could hear me.  And then I went to knitters' breakfast and told everyone there too.  I think that what really shocks me is the idea that the doctor is taking this seriously.

When a friend of mine asked me where I was on the pain scale, I said that it varied from 0 to 4 or 5.  I think she was trying to help me not worry by making me admit that it doesn't hurt that much, really, not when I put it in perspective y'know?

Except that I don't need to talk myself down from fear that something is terribly, horribly, wrong.  I need to talk myself into believing that my concerns deserve to be taken seriously, that "I feel fine except when I dance," is NOT, actually, the same as "I feel fine."  I need to convince myself that "not able to participate in an activity I love," is, actually, a valid reason for concern.  This is harder than it should be.  I still feel weird going to the doctor for anything.  And when I do, I usually preface everything with well, it's probably nothing...

Friday, October 18, 2013


I know I've been yelling a lot.  Sorry.  But SRSLY.  Mulan dressed up as Xena for Halloween.  Does it get any better than this?

Disney Halloween: Mulan by ~IsaiahStephens on deviantART

Also, I love finding deviantART links because I am assuming that if there are "here's the code to embed this" instructions then I'm supposed to be able to post it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I'm so weirdly nervous.  Or maybe not weirdly, maybe perfectly understandably nervous.

But anyway, my is live and it looks exactly like I wanted it to. 

The good things in life.

Now, when I come home from dance lessons, I have more energy than I did when I left the house.  This is a new thing, and much appreciated.  My feet and lungs and heart have become lazy, complaining, assholes.  My leg continues to be a horrible mystery that neither makes sense nor improves.  SIGH.  I have a followup appointment with sports medicine on Friday.

And, you know what?  There's a new guy, he just started grad school here, and he's sexy and nice and a really good dancer (but he only knows International ballroom, so he's still learning, too) and he never wears shirts that have sleeves. So I am thankful for the good things in life, like dancing with sexy bare-armed men.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

You guys, you'd better stop me

I think I might rename my State Fair photos series, 'Sadface."

It would be so funny.

I'd cut down the statement to:

Sometimes all the cotton candy and inflatable dolphins in Iowa aren't enough to make your feet stop hurting.

Things I still need to do:

OMG I'm actually splitting up my Dragon Age time with SOME OTHER ACTIVITY.  Yeah it's totally amazing.

Anyway, hopefully today I'll get some good copy shots of my embroidery so I can put those up, and then I need to, seriously, get my shit together with the state fair photos.  Because I fixed them up on my computer at home and now they look like shit on my ipad and this screen, so I need to find a happy medium and also make the new set match the old set, and maybe do some more adding/weeding out of the final selection.

Oh, and I need to dig up old photos from under the bed, because I've got a few lith print portraits that didn't work for what I was doing at the time but do something else entirely that I couldn't have planned for ten years ago.  I hate digging out old prints.  But.  Must be done.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


I bought a Wordpress template (Fluxus) and now I'm working on putting it together.  Some of it is just resizing, some of it is tweaking my statements, or rewriting them entirely.  It won't play mp3s, so I'll need to make videos of my radio essays, and I still need to take some good photos of the embroidery.  Hopefully it will be live next week when my domain switches over.

Friday, October 11, 2013

More Smatter

tl;dr: I still like Dragon Age 2, I'm an INTJ, and I'm redesigning my website because angst


Jenny is approached by a magistrate who needs help with a sensitive matter: a criminal with a life sentence has escaped from prison, and is now trapped inside dangerous ruins. Jenny's job is to bring this man safely back to justice. When asked why he doesn't just leave the criminal to his near-certain death, the magistrate indignantly says that he will not kill a man just because it is convenient. The prisoner  will serve out his sentence, but he should not be killed, either by intent or negligence.

As Jenny approaches the ruins, she meets an elf named Elren who gives her another side of the story: the criminal is Kelder, the magistrate's son. Kelder has been abducting and killing elf children for years. His "imprisonment" amounts to house arrest, as the magistrate refuses to allow his son to face a court. This is not Kelder's first escape. And each time he escapes, he kills another child. This time, the child is Elren's daughter. If Jenny were to bring Kelder to "justice," the cycle will only continue. Even if Jenny could force a court hearing, it would be the word of elves against the magistrate, and the result would be the same. It's the reason Kelder has been able to continue for so long: as long as he only kills elf children, no one cares. Elren is there to demand, not "justice," but death. The only way to stop the cycle, he says, is to kill Kelder.

When she confronts Kelder, she learns that he escaped into the ruin for the purpose of suicide by monster. He knows that what he does is wrong. He also believes that he is powerless to stop himself. He is clearly delusional, possibly schizophrenic. The demons tell him to do it, you see. Because the children are so beautiful. They need to be punished. He begs Jenny to kill him and end it.

In KOTOR, the light side response would be to let him live. Taking justice into one's own hands is never the answer. Killing in cold blood is never the answer. The light side response would be to show mercy to a troubled man, and to put faith in the system. (In KOTOR, this would have positive results, since Jedi powers are great assets in court.)  Jade Empire and Mass Effect would have the same answer, only they would call it "open palm" and "paragon." If I were playing any of those other games, I would be guided into that answer, because to do otherwise would be to hinder my progress towards my character's moral alignment. Those games give you no incentive to make decisions based on anything but receiving alignment bonuses. I never realized how much of a crutch that was until I started playing Dragon Age.

It really irks me that this symbol was never explained.  Is it mage-resistance?  Nazi dragons?

Dragon Age has no such alignment system. Not a "good v. evil" system, or even a "selfless/kind vs. selfish/cruel" system. The "good" answer is not a good answer. Neither is the alternative. There is only Jenny, and the world she wants to live in. She will be judged by the people around her, but there is no universal scale to weigh her actions. I want to put Kelder in a real institution. Somewhere he can't escape from, somewhere that might actually be able to help him understand and deny the voices in his head. I want the system to care about the outcasts as much as it does the magistrate. But that isn't an option. Jenny can only allow the broken system to continue, and hope that this one time will be different from all the rest, or she can act as executioner. There is never a fight with Kelder. She can't kill him in self-defense; that woud be too easy. The game makes certain to show that he is no threat to Jenny.

Jenny kills Kelder.  It's a broken answer to a broken system but I can't stomach the alternative.

Origins had some of these kinds of choices. Travel to the mages' tower to try to save a possessed boy, thereby risking the lives of everyone in the castle and surrounding town, or deal with the threat immediately by killing either the boy or his mother. Give the throne to an ineffectual king who will support an oppressive status quo, or to a scheming fratricide who will sieze all the power and use it to give rights to the casteless. But most of the options are much more obvious. There is no downside to saving the mages. And there is no reason to suggest slaughtering an entire tribe of Dalish elves.  There are usually options that let you save everyone.  On the other hand, DA2 is almost entirely made up of choices like this.


According to this totally scientifically accurate test, I am an octopus.


I have website angst.  I have a website, until November something, at which point, having decided that FatCow is charging too much for something I'm not sure I have a use for, that site will cease to exist.  Also, my website looks terrible and is only barely functional on a phone.  If by "barely," I mean "totally not."

I made it back when people were still using tables, which I've been told no-one does anymore.  It's <div> tags now. 

Anyway, I made a website because I was actively working to make my way in the academic/fine art world, and I needed a portfolio.  Not having a website on my CV would be almost as weird as not having an email address.

Here is a short list of people I know and their websites:

Kyla     Lisa     Allison     Alyss      Aaron      Kate      Chris       Sonya    

So I have this website which I auto-renew because it's easier to pay than to figure out what I'm doing with my website, because figuring that out would require figuring out my life.  Because I like my job.  If, god forbid, I ever lost this job, I would probably do my best to find another one like it.  And people who do my job don't need portfolios.  If I were actively producing work and submitting to exhibitions, then my artistic CV would still be relevant, and so would a website.  But, well, I'm really not doing that, either.  I have two narrative essays that I shop around (Chapter 3 is currently on the virtual desk of The Baltimore Review), but that's really it. 

If I'm no longer part of the academic/fine art world, then having a personal portfolio site seems awfully pretentious.  I mean, I already have this space here, where I can talk about myself and say LOOK AT MEEEEEEE to my heart's content.   But getting rid of my website feels like saying I'm not that person anymore and that's a scary thing.  Which is why I kept spending money to avoid thinking about it.

So I have been trying to think of what else a portfolio site could be, what it brings to me or my work or my life besides a line on a CV.  And I think that, much in the same way that I was looking for unexpected connections between unrelated images in my archives, making a website can function the same way.

So I am working on something new.  Something that deserves to exist on its own.  I am making notes about ways to organize and categorize.  I am writing new statements.  I am thinking of re-framing my pictorialist images:

When I was twenty, I thought I was taking photographs of what mattered. “The feel of a crowd, or the glow of sunlight on hair,” I said.  At the time, I was capturing moments that I was intimately familiar with.  Now, more than 10 years later, when I look at these photos, all I see are the things I can't see.  I look at these photos and see a blank space where a face might be.  I look at these photos and see what I have lost.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Speaking of women with power in Kirkwall:

Knight-Commander Meredith is neither sexualized nor defeminized.  She wears her hair down, and long, but not curled or otherwise styled. Her armor emphasizes her figure without showing skin or resorting to the boob plate cliché.  And yet, her attractiveness as a woman is no part of her power.   It is secondary to her role as Knight-Commander.  She never references her position as a (presumably) available woman, nor does anyone else ever remark on her gender or attractiveness.   It's the Knight Commander, she'd have their head in a second!

She is never referred to as shrill, or bitchy, or any of the standard adjectives for a woman in power. And she is sympathetic. Her zealotry comes from a desire to protect her city, and she has good reasons for her fears. She is trying to contain an explosion in slow motion, and she's doing it wrong but she doesn't know any other way.

Now Reading: Postcards from Kirkwall and Others

A detailed analysis of kyriarchy in Dragon Age 2, as examined by two simultaneous play-throughs.  One Hawke experiences the game as a female mage, and the other as a male warrior.  A look at Thedas through the lens of what it is like to experience the events of the game with varying amounts of privilege.  The differences are sometimes subtle, but there nonetheless.  Sadly, there are only a few posts so far, but I think the idea itself is really interesting.

2. Mages and Philosophies of Oppression

I skimmed the more quote-heavy bits, but this raises an interesting point: most of the danger that mages pose to others, and the dangers to mages themselves, could be lessened given support and resources.  Blood magic is a dangerous alternative to lyrium.  When Merrill makes a deal with a demon, it is only because she doesn't have access, as a Dalish elf, to the resources she'd need to power her spell with lyrium.  Similarly, most examples we have of mages turning to demons are due to fear, desperation, anger, despair.  A system that supported mages, a culture of social justice, universal access to lyrium, would likely reduce the danger.

Even in a supportive society with access to resources and no persecution, there would still be mages succumbing to the desire to be even more powerful than they can be with lyrium alone.  And even privileged people can suffer fear and despair.  But the conditions of the circle can be seen to actually make the problem worse.

3.  No blog, just stuff.

In Ferelden, which is ruled entirely by men, with the exception of Anora who wielded her power from the sidelines, as the power behind Cailan's throne, rather than a power in her own right, Jenny was often marked as different for being female.  She was often reminded that "there aren't many women gray wardens," or asked, "as a woman, what do you think?"

In Kirkwall, two of the four positions of power are held by women: Knight-Commander Meredith and Grand Cleric Elthina.  One of those positions is only available to women, as the Chantry only accepts female leaders.  It can be said that the two of them hold much more power than the other two positions, which seem mostly to act as figureheads: the Viscount and the First Enchanter.  If one adds the Captain of the Guard to the list, then women hold three of the five positions, and after Act 2, when the Viscount is removed and Jenny is proclaimed Champion, Kirkwall becomes practically a matriarchy.  And in this environment, in contrast to Ferelden, Jenny is remarked upon for being foreign, but never for being female.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Unreliable Narrator

Almost nothing that Jenny Hawke does during her seven years in Kirkwall makes a difference.  The events that take place are inevitable, her quests result in little meaningful change.  Merrill will reconstruct the Eluvian with or without Jenny's help.  And no amount of logic or love will keep Anders from blowing up the Chantry.  There is no choice she can take that will keep the Qunari from attacking the city and executing the Viscount, and no choice that will save her mother from a serial killer. 

This is a common complaint about the game, and one I agree with.  Or rather, I agree that it's a fair assessment of the game, but I admire rather than object to those elements.  Most people don't play games in order to feel powerless.  They were frustrated and angered by DA2.

I am fascinated.

See, Jenny isn't playing out her story.  She is a character in Varric's story.  The game gives the impression of agency—after all, there are buttons to push and choices to make.  But the game also makes it clear from the beginning that everything that Jenny will do is something that she has done.

Or, more importantly, something that Varric says she's done.  And Varric demonstrates early on that he prefers his stories with more than a dash of embellishment. 

And so, when we see Jenny escape from a Lothering that looks nothing like it did in Origins, we can attribute the discrepancy to the same source as Bethany's bizarrely large bosom.  It's the story that Varric would like to tell.  (More problematic is the discrepancy between the Hawke family's skin color in the intro and a non-white Hawke in the game.)

Some of the lies Varric tells are obvious; Cassandra calls him on them. But Varric is a good storyteller, and there is no one else to call his facts into question.  And Varric has good reason to tell the story he does.

You see, if the events of Kirkwall were all inevitable, if there was nothing that anyone—especially Jenny—could have done, then Varric is off the hook.  If all Jenny really did was be at important places at important times, then what happened can be blamed, as Varric suggests, on the idol. Or Anders.  Anyone but Jenny.

The idol is a funny thing.  In a story about human rivalries and weaknesses, about cultural misunderstandings rather than darkspawn, the idol seems out of place.  When Meredith draws her sword at the end, and we realize that she is no longer in control of herself, that the idol has warped her mind and all the pain and death she caused can be blamed on a mysterious artifact, it takes much of the power out of the story.  It feels like cheating.  If Meredith is under the influence of the idol then she is no longer responsible for her actions.

It also means that Jenny is no longer responsible for her death.  An insane Meredith needs to be fought.  An insane Meredith can't be reasoned with or surrendered to.  An insane Meredith can't even be listened to, because her arguments are all tainted by the idol.  There is no moral choice to be made, there is simply an abomination to defeat.

But isn't that what Varric wants?  To convince the Chantry that killing the Knight Commander was, not only the right thing to do, but the only thing?  If Meredith had been speaking only as herself then the Chantry might see some value in her words.  The Chantry might want to avenge her death.  If Meredith had been taken over by the idol then Jenny must be the good guy in the story.

What if that's a lie?  What if the idol had no power?  What if the idol was Varric's way of protecting himself from the guilt of killing his brother?  And later, his way of protecting Jenny?  What if that one element of the story that doesn't fit is something that never happened?

If Varric wanted to add a lie to the story, he might start by telling an even larger, more obvious lie.  He'd let himself get caught.  And then, having "realized that he can't get away with lies," he would tell the smaller lie, sheepishly, like a man who knows he's been bested.  And that's exactly how tells the story.  When he tells Cassandra about meeting Bartrand again, he begins with a tall tale.  When Cassandra catches him at it, then he tells her about the mysterious power of the idol.

He might have even believed it, at first.  It would be easier to think that killing his brother was a terrible, but necessary, thing.  That his brother didn't mean to betray him, that he couldn't help himself.  He would have told himself that the idol must have taken over his brother.  He would have told other people that a dangerous magic was loose in Kirkwall.  And the story would spread.

And when Varric found himself with a dagger at his throat and an angry Seeker demanding a story, he might have used that story to try to save himself and his friend.

Do I think that's what Bioware intended?  Not really.  But it could be.  The frame story changes everything.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sort of Like a Birthday Present

It's occurred to me that, with one exception, I have had a romantic interest on my birthday every year since I was 22.  Sometimes it's an actual boyfriend, sometimes it's a Person of Interest, with flirting and kissing that falls off a few days or weeks after.  Sometimes it's an actual boyfriend who I break up with a few weeks after.  I suppose it's sort of like a birthday present from the universe.  Not because I need a man in my life to be happy, or even the non-heteronormative version of same.  But because I do like flirting.  I like having something on that particular shelf of my brain.  It's like a particular kind of problem to solve.

And I had one this year, too, someone to tell me he'd be thinking about me on the beach in my cutoffs, someone to complement me, but not too much, someone to say he really wants to meet me.  It was nice having messages to check when I got back to the hotel.

But it's not my birthday anymore, and he hasn't made the transition from "wanting to meet" to "making plans." 

I suppose I'll write to that guy with the cute photo of him and his dog.  But for now, I'm just disappointed.


I totally did this first.

I didn't do this one.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

DA2: Being Nice

(I'm making myself play through Awakenings, because I want a world where the Architect gets a chance to make a difference.  But it doesn't really have much appeal to me on a second play.  I want to get back to Zevran's Jenny (I kept trying to name her something else, but this is what stuck in my head), or start on a new Rogue Jenny in DA2.)

I tried to be friends with everyone in DA2, because I always try to be friends with everyone.  Someone once said that it couldn't be done, but fuck that. I win ALL charisma checks. Even when there isn't even a charisma stat. And, because it's a video game, I set about befriending my party members by agreeing with everyone to their face, and occasionally leaving them out of the party when I was going to do something they wouldn't like. There were times when I needed a party member's presence in a battle in order to survive it, but there were lots of decisions made in perfect safety where I could swap out party members to suit. This is how video games have taught me to make friends.

Except, in DA2, Jenny can be friends with her rivals.  The game phrases it as friendship v. rivalry, but from what I'm reading—I still need to try it—it's really two different kinds of friendship. One can be friends with someone with whom one has strong disagreements with. One can even, sometimes, pursuade such a friend to reconsider their beliefs.  And that's what those red rivalry points mean: Jenny has said something that her friend doesn't want to hear. 

Everyone told me, I just didn't quite believe it. Or maybe I believed but couldn't make myself play any other way. The "get people to like me" instinct is too strong.

I joke that making someone like me in a video game involves agreeing all the time, and how that's a terrible lesson for real life. But I kind of do that in real life. I have a tendency to give people what I think they want, especially people I don't know well, and especially people who I want to like me. I'm planning on developing some rivalries in my next DA2 play, but it's so hard to make myself say antagonizing lines. When I see those red points flash on the screen, even though they don't mean "likes you less," I still feel bad for disagreeing. Because I'm really bad at disagreeing.

It's not strange that I have a hard time being direct, confrontational, contradictory.  I've mentioned before how women are taught to smooth things over.  I'm very good at it.  But it galls me to see that, not only does this mean I have difficulty negotiating, assuming authority, or standing up for myself and my beliefs in the world around me, I can't even pick the red dialog option in a damn video game.  It's just not nice.  And it kills me to not be nice.


Has it only been four months? I went back and counted, so it must be. I feel like I've been talking about this forever. And, given the amount of words I've directed at the subject, I suppose it probably feels like forever to anyone reading this blog or living in my house (hi!).

Among all the other feels I've expressed already, I've realized that Dragon Age has also introduced me—for the first time really—to Fandom.

I mean, I'd heard of fandom. I know some of the language, some of the social mores. But I've never really been a part of fandom. I've never cared about a piece of media1 enough, or when I did I had people around me who cared as much as I did so when I watched Buffy for the first time I could go into knitters breakfast and say HOLY SHIT THAT HAPPENED and everyone would nod knowingly and say, BUFFY IS GREAT. And that was that.

But as I've been traisping further and further down the path towards Dragon Age: TOTAL OBSESSION, I've become more and more immersed in Dragon Age fandom. It was like the way Elodie Under Glass described flirting as "a sassy walk up to somebody and going “PANTSFEELINGS?” and having them sassily respond “PANTSFEELINGS!” Discovering fandom was walking up to someone and saying "ALISTAIRFEELINGS?" and having them respond, "ALISTAIRFEELINGS!"

I found other people who, not only appreciated and enjoyed the game, but actually blushed, sometimes, when thinking about Alistair, people who would stop playing when their significant other was in the room, because their feelings for this other, virtual, person were too real to exist in the same space with their "real" person. People who tried to create characters that played other romance options, but couldn't get over the feeling that they were cheating on Alistair. (The occupants of our living room may have heard me repeat, as a mantra, not flirting with Alistair, I am not flirting with Alistair. It's hard.) Even though these posts are years old, and I usually shy away from commenting anyway, I still get that joy of shared experience. We are strangers, these fans and I, but I'm so glad to know them. 



Dragon age origin - A and M by ~june-B on deviantART2

1 Does the definition of "media" include written stories? It seems like, taken literally, it should, but it gets used as the thing that is opposed to printed books. Anyway, I really mean "creation," because I suppose I could be a fan of a work of art as well as a book or TV show.

2 I initially had a different piece of fan art here, with Isabela sitting cheekily on the shoulders of the Arishok. And then I saw people pointing out that the artist had significantly whitewashed Isabela, and seriously?  Fuck that shit. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Same and Not

I don't think I've ever been this affected by a second playthough. 

When Mage Jenny saved the world, I went back and watched that ending montage on YouTube, over and over, so I could justify my criticism of it.  So I could say, no really, I checked.  It is NOT ENOUGH.  Because it wasn't just a victory montage, it was an Alistair's death montage, and that aspect was brushed aside.  I felt liked I'd been denied something important to me.

That same montage, when it was no longer Alistair's death scene, was completely transformed.

And then, when Jenny was back in the throne room, rested and cleaned up again, the final scene was not only no-less-affecting because it was my second time, it was actually more important to me because of my first game.

I mentioned before that I once experimented with having Jenny give Alistair a bunch of coal and smelly onions to see what he'd say when his approval dropped.  And after restarting the game so that "never happened," Jenny made out with him a few times just to reassure me that I hadn't actually ruined anything.  See, look!  He's still in love.  It's okay.

I find myself wanting to watch the coronation scene again, and probably again after that, to reassure myself that I can.

Not only can't I think of another game that has done this, I'm not sure how another game could.  Perhaps if I had learned, after playing Apostate Jenny of Sad Consequences through to the end, that if she had been more critical of Anders, he might not have chosen to blow up the Chantry, and that some other terrible event would cause Meridith to call for the Rite of Annulment.  It would not only have been devastating to see the consequences of Jenny's well-meaning actions, but it would have been a relief to fight that last battle with Anders, knowing that he hadn't caused it.  But even that isn't quite the same.  I can't think of another way that the game could end the same way but not mean the same thing.

I know, I know, I just declared DA2 the Best Game I've Played.  I find myself thinking, no, maybe Origins is!  But I don't know how to compare the two.  They succeed so differently, for such different reasons, and on such different levels.  I can go through all the things that could be improved, but what they get right, they get RIGHT.  And it's amazing to experience.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Oh, and for some reason, when I went and actually made a "Dragon Age" tag, Blogger moved a bunch of posts as having been "published" today, which totally gummed things up, so I moved them all to September 1st so at least they'd be out of order somewhere else.  Hmmph.  Also, I finally gave in and made a Dragon Age tag.  That, too.

Teryna Jenny Saved the World

I finished Dragon Age: Origins again this afternoon.  And as Jenny stood bathed in dying-archdemon-explosion-light, her sword sunk deep behind the archdemon's skull, I thought, we won.

It's hard to explain how good that felt.  This is the second time I've beaten the game.  But even though I've won before, it never felt like winning.  Winning was the most terrible thing I'd ever felt in a game.  I watched the end game, went through the motions of conversations, and sent Jenny out into the world again, and the whole time I kept repeating Alistair over and over, in my head. 

For the first time, it felt like I had actually won.  I could see the relief on the faces of the men in the battle below, and not hate them for being alive. 

After the speeches, when Jenny and Alistair have a moment to talk quietly, Alistair says that it's amazing to still be alive, and that Jenny is still alive, and how wonderful that is.  And I think, you have no idea.  

Because I've seen that ending, the one he'd feared.  I know what it feels like to stand in that room alone.  I saw him die, and then I went on in a world where he was dead, and I don't want that world to happen again.  Here Jenny is, talking to Alistair, and making jokes about serving the crown, and I think, this, THIS is what I wanted.  This is what I was playing for.

I think, Thank you, Morrigan.  For giving Jenny this.  That moment in the throne room, and every moment after that in a world where Jenny and Alistair can be together is a gift. 

Dragon Age gives me all the feels.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Oh, and I found out something about Morrigan.  It really makes me want to play Dwarf Jenny again, even though he annoys me, because he's the only one who can woo her.

Eventually, [Morrigan] becomes afraid of the affection she feels for the Warden – to a point where if you raise her approval rating to “love” without having sex with her, she will not have sex with the Warden at all. Her own feelings scare her, and she’s not sure what to do about it, especially because she knows about the Dark Ritual. She knows she’ll have to leave the person she’s falling for, and she’d rather be alone than have that happen.

Everything that Morrigan is, is a defensive mechanism.  She doesn't know how to relate to other people, so she pushes them away.  She doesn't want them before they might not want her.  She always chooses personal gain, even at the expense of others.  Because she believes that's the way the world works.  It's what she needs to do to survive.

See, Morrigan was raised playing Prisoner's Dilemma with Flemeth.  And Flemeth always chose betrayal.  Morrigan assumes that the world punishes the kind and rewards the selfish, because for her it was true.  Now she's playing the same game with Jenny, and no matter what Morrigan does, Jenny refuses to turn her in.  It changes everything.  Morrigan's survival strategies don't work the way they should, not in a world where people like Jenny exist.  After all, the best outcome in an ongoing game of Prisoner's Dilemma comes from being able to hope for the best, being able to trust someone else. 

There is no moment where Morrigan announces that she's changed.  But I like to think that her experience with Jenny makes a difference.  I like to think that she's too smart to not notice that the world is not what she thought it was, that in the long game, kindness and forgiveness and trust and hope can sometimes—not always—be winning strategies.

Adventures in Illness: Home Sick Yesterday

Well, I started out by sleeping, a lot, but eventually I achived coherence again, and at first I tried to stay in bed playing on the ipad or maybe reading with the idea that if I stayed home from work I shouldn't get to play xbox because that's what I wanted to be doing. Except that I couldn't really handle reading, which is why I was home in the first place.

So I played a LOT of Dragon Age!

I started out right before the Landsmeet, finished all the Denerim quests leading up to it, including a few that I hadn't seen before because Teryna Jenny is more thorough and also less rule-following. And then I went through the Landsmeet, got everyone but the bald dude on my side, let Alistair duel Logain, and then turned on Anora and declared myself Alistair's queen. This is what Teryna Jenny was created to do. Every decision I have made in this game has been to get Jenny and Alistair to this point.

And you know what? It was really unsatisfying. I'm so glad I played Mage Jenny first.

Here's how it should have gone: before the Landsmeet takes place, either on the way to Denerim or the first time entering Arl Eamon's estate, Alistair initiates a conversation. He says I don't know if we're going to win at the Lansmeet, and I don't know what will happen afterwards. Eamon wants to make me king, and Anora wants me out of the way. Somehow I've ended up at the center of all this and I never wanted to be, and all I can think is, if I have you with me, we can get through this, whatever happens. Will you? Be with me? I mean—what I'm trying to say is—will you marry me?

See, look! I wrote his speech already.  It's a rough draft, and it's pretty schmaltzy, but I think it's fitting for his character. I missed an opportunity to say something witty and self-deprecating, but I'm not as good at that part. There could maybe also be some complimentary things about how Jenny is kind and strong and knows a bit about ruling, and y'know, the love of his life and all. He's said it before, but, hey, he's proposing!  He can damn well say it again.  And after that discussion, the Landsmeet can continue with pretty much the same script, except that when Jenny announces that she's going to marry Alistair and rule with him, it's not a COMPLETE SHOCK to her new fiancee.

Or, Jenny can change her mind, and crown Anora, or just Alistair by himself, or whatever, and he'll have a lot of feels after. See? Easy fix!

Or maybe Jenny proposes, since she's all player-character and stuff.  Maybe Alistair starts out with his speech, but after the "if I have you with me," bit, instead of asking her to marry him, he says something about how he doesn't feel like it's fair to ask it of her—she'd have to be queen (he'd see that as a downside), she'd be married to someone who might not be able to give her children, etc., and Jenny can respond by asking him to marry her.  It would be kind of sweet, actually. 

Instead there's Jenny's declaration of marriage, followed by Alistair's lukewarm acceptance afterwards.  He says things like, "Don't get me wrong, I like the idea," and "this might not work but we'll talk about it later."

Really, Alistair? I want a little more than that.

I can't even blame him too much, because it was a lousy thing for Jenny to pull on him. She used him as a stepping stone to power.  (She did say at the beginning, when he confessed his heritage, that she thought it was thrilling.   I picked that answer at the time because I knew he'd like it, but I felt kind of icky about it. Now I feel even worse.)

I already knew about all of this.  I just didn't think it would be so unpleasant to watch it unfold. I mean, I haven't had quite the same ALISTAIRFEELS this time around.   It's been more like going through the motions of a crush; the delight of discovery is gone. But it turns out I still cared enough to be disappointed in him, and disappointed in Jenny.

And then, because I remember that Shannon Philips writing about her disappointment with the proposal, I went back and read her post again. And then I got to the part about the final battle with the Archdemon:

“You say that like I’m giving you a choice.”

And then—as I gaped at the screen in slack-jawed disbelief—my computer boyfriend grabbed his sword, vaulted heroically atop the fallen form of the Archdemon, drove his blade deep in the creature’s skull, was bathed in an explosion of power, and died.

And I was blown away, all over again. The shock and sadness and anger and bewilderment, all over again.  Alistair!

Damn you, Alistair.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Further Adventures in Medication: Meta Adventures

Now that I finally HAVE my drugs, I have started taking them again, as of this morning.

I remember that, in the past, when I have started my meds after a significant time away, I acquire a temporary anxiety disorder.  The only-sleeping-five-hours-a-night and filled-with-panic-and-a-sense-of-impending-doom kind.  The I-don't-know-what-I'm-afraid-of-but-I'm-sure-it's-happening-oh-shit kind.  I've never had an anxiety disorder, so I don't know if how I feel is similar, but anxiety is the best word I can think of to describe my starting-meds state.  Luckily, it isn't too extreme, and it doesn't last more than a few days at most.  And it only happens when I can't manage to be a grownup and get my refills on time.

So now that I am starting my meds again, I wonder, am I going to get anxious?  Am I anxious now?  I just had a feeling of worry!  Maybe it's the anxiety!

I am anxious that I might be becoming anxious.

No response by now usually means no response coming


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Projects I stopped working on years ago and would like to maybe start again


perfect medium versus imperfect memory, digital modeling best suited to platonic ideals and not real objects, but these objects aren't real anymore and neither are the people who used them, my memory of my grandmother indistinguishable from my idea of grandmother, what she represented and not what she was, the frustration of needing to give exact details when all I remember are vague impressions, a memory of a memory of a feeling—

or something like that, anyway

Where I left off:  I think I was working on a refrigerator.

What needs to happen:  We've upgraded our version of 3D Studio Max twice since I last used it.  I need to watch some tutorials.  There have been big improvements in using normal maps on low-poly surfaces to create details, and adding chamfers as part of the rendering process rather than the modeling process.  In theory I think I ought to teach myself Blender, because then I can work at home.  (That is, if the current version of Blender will run on my old, old, Mac OS.)  But learning Blender is so awkward.  I know that it isn't, actually, limited.  I've seen the Blender galleries.  But because I'm so used to Max, even after years of not modeling anything, that anything else seems like it can't possibly be as good.


I write messages at two-thirty in the morning, half-drunk with exhaustion, and half-drunk with drink, giddy and hopeful. I write them when I wake up, and in the minutes before work or class.   I mull them over for hours or days, typing and retyping the same sentence.  I write them carelessly, thoughtlessly, almost on accident.   I trip and they fall out of my hands.  My computer screen is the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I see before I sleep.  I keep writing because I can’t imagine not writing. I need the waiting, and the hoping, and the wanting.   I don’t know what to do with myself without it. 

Where I left off:  I was going to film this with live action scenes, but only because I wanted to learn to shoot and edit video since we had cameras that could do it.  I made a mock-up, and never actually shot any footage.

What needs to happen:  The thing is, there's something really cheesy about dramatic re-enactments, and I'm not that great an actor, and I don't want to look at myself that much.  Animation, or freeze-frame sketches, or anything else, would actually fit the essay much better.  I need to learn to animate, to see if that's the way I want to do this, and I should also look into different drawing techniques/styles.  I'm thinking of shooting photos of the scenes, and working from them, maybe directly on them.  Sort of the way I sometimes trace photos to make line drawings for illustrations for this blog.

I might see if I can audit the animation class next semester...


Where I left off:  I got sooooo close to finishing another year of State Fair photos, but not quite enough to add them to the preexisting set.

What needs to happen:  Lay out all my prints, and see which need tweaking.  Each image has a print I'm happy with, by itself, but sometimes they need adjustment when put together as a group.  Then, possibly a little more editing out of weaker images.  If I rebuild my website, I'll need to update the series.  Seriously, there is no excuse.  It's soooooo close.


Number 149 looked, but didn't reply.

Hope is hard.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Oh and Also: Adventures in Medication

Once upon a time, I was on Effexor for depression.  It worked great, in that I wasn't depressed anymore.  Since it was the first drug I'd tried, and I'd convinced myself that if drugs didn't work then there was NOTHING LEFT FOR ME AND LIFE WOULD NEVER BE WORTH LIVING, I do still have some fond feelings towards it.  The problem with Effexor was what happened when I didn't take it.  I could forget a day and not suffer too much consequence, but two days were trouble, and three were hell. Withdrawal symptoms: they're not fucking around.

So I "forgot" my drugs a lot.  Yeah, I know it doesn't make any sense.  But even though I was dependent on drugs in order to not feel all SADFEELS, it was a kind of abstract dependency.  Being dependent on drugs in order to be able to form coherent thoughts and walk a straight line was a very different kind of dependency, and I hated it.  Hating the dependency made me hate the drugs, and hating the drugs made me want to act out against them.  So I would put off eating breakfast, which meant I couldn't take my drugs, and by the time I'd eaten I'd "forget" to take them, or when I did remember I would put it off until later by which time I'd forget for real.  That sort of thing, and all done at the level just under conscious thought so I could maintain plausible deniability.

(The whole having-to-eat-first-thing was another huge problem, because it pitted diets against sanity, and when "diet" is actually an eating disorder, the eating disorder usually wins.  I can't take the drugs that help me like myself because I'm too busy starving in order to like myself.  Duh.)

After a few years, I decided that I was "cured" or something, and just tapered off for good.  A few years after that, I decided that "cured" was probably not in the cards for me, and when I started up with a shrink again, I asked to try different options.  Now I'm on generic Wellbutrin, which seems to do just as well in regards to the sadfeels, without kicking my ass if I forget to take it.  (The biggest problem is that starting the Wellbutrin makes me anxious for the first day or two, so going completely off is still worth avoiding, but not in a too-miserable-to-function kind of way.)

So I don't worry when my pill bottle runs low.  And I don't worry when I don't have any refills left.  I "forget" to take a pill every once and a while, y'know, to stretch them out a little while I'm working on getting more.  And then I call my doctor for a new prescription, but I don't actually check with the pharmacy for another week.  By then I'm actually out.  And the pharmacy doesn't have a record of the prescription.  And it's Saturday.  And the prescription won't get filled until Wednesday.  And then it's Wednesday and I still haven't heard anything but I'm going to see my doctor on Thursday so it'll definitely get done by then.  She pulls up the scrip on the computer.  There it is.  CVS at the Old Capitol Mall, right?  And then it's Saturday, again, and the pharmacy has no record of my prescription, or even a record of the call I made a week before, and do I want the pharmacist to call for me on Monday?

Oh I'm sick

It all makes sense now.

Friday, September 20, 2013

this week

I don't think there's been a day this week when simply being awake wasn't enough to make me want to cry.  Not in a agony-of-the-world kind of way, just a crushing desire to sleep.  I am so fucking tired.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ask me what I'm asking for

Working on a design for new embroidered pillow.

I think I'm going with version 3.  Still not sure what to match this with.  The embroidered pillowcases I saw were all made in identical pairs, but I'd rather not do that if I don't HAVE to.  I could just go with "Consent is sexy."

Any other ideas?

I made a thing. I have plans to make more things. I am madly in love with Gabrielle.


Flirting is basically doing a sassy walk up to somebody and going “PANTSFEELINGS?” and having them sassily respond “PANTSFEELINGS!” and then you pretend that you’re communicating about something else while really you’re going “Ha-HA! We are such attractive people."

-Elodie Under Glass, guest post for Captain Awkward


I watched a LOT of Xena this weekend.  Also, I made this:

Next up, I'm planning on sewing a pair of pillowcases.  One that says PANTSFEELINGS? and one that says PANTSFEELINGS!

Also, I'd like to find a nice, scalloped-edge pillowcase to embroider with the phrase, "Ask me what I'm asking for."  And since pillowcases also come in sets of twos, I'm still looking for something to match.

Cassie pointed out that the state fair is a place where embroidery and sewing are the unmarked state.  I can make things out of these materials, and instead of people thinking, "why did she choose to use embroidery," people think, "why did she choose Sylvia Plath?"

I don't want to think of this as a body of work, not yet.  I'm just making things I'd like to make, and seeing if it coalesces into something coherent.

And, no connection to anything at all, but I have just found this image:

It's a Dante's Inferno book/game tie-in cover.


This exists.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Iced vanilla white chocolate mocha, half-filled with off-brand Kaluha and Hawkeye vodka.  Macklemore Pandora station, dance party by myself on a Sunday afternoon.  Oh, and cleaning my room.  Dishes next.  And the thing is, this is fun.  Like seriously fucking fun.

I like a lot of things, and I think I'm pretty good at finding enjoyment even in things that aren't, well, my thing.  But when I make a list of the times I've really been happiest, when I have felt the most myself, and when I have truly believed that "myself" is a great thing to be, most of those times have been by myself.  Driving out to Milwaukee for the Wisconsis State Fair, spending a lazy afternoon with a book and a blanket in my backyard or a lakefront, dancing in my house by myself.

Can we go back
This is the moment
Tonight is the night, we'll fight till it's over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can't hold us
Like the ceiling can't hold us

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 5


I can also tell you the differences between discontinued black and white film developers, and the differences in the way they interact with discontinued films.  I can probably draw you a pretty good map of Xanth or Ferelden.

The point is sort of that I know all of these things.  But the real point is that everyone does.  Everyone has pools in their memory that are much deeper than they look from the surface, that connect to underground caverns of information.  It might be particle physics, or it might be every song on every Goo Goo Dolls album; no matter what the subject, someone is an expert on it.

It also makes me think about the things we don't even consider to be knowledge.  Think about anything you know how to do, like speak English or shop for groceries.  When you break it down into individual steps, and then into the necessary information you must have to understand in order to complete each step, it's an incredible amount of knowledge.  All of the things we learn without realizing that we're learning.

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 4


There are four rounds in mah jong, and each round is made up of four or more hands.  Each player is dealer at least once per round.  If dealer wins, then they deal again, if not, then the deal passes counter-clockwise.  When all four players have dealt, the next round starts.  Each round corresponds with a wind (East, South, North, West).  Each seat also corresponds with a wind.  The seats rotate according to who is dealing.  Dealer is always sitting at East seat.  The seat to the RIGHT of the dealer is South.  (Don't ask me why cardinal directions are backwards.  They just are.)

For example, if it is the first round and I am dealing, then I am at East seat during East round.  This means that if I win and have a pung of East wind tiles, I win two points for them.  One point for a pung that matches the round (East) and one point for a pung that matches my seat (also East).  If I were dealing in the second round and won with a pung of East wind tiles, I would only get one point for them, because they would match my seat but not the round.  If it were the first round and I were sitting opposite dealer, then I would get points for either East tiles OR West tiles, because I would be sitting at West seat during East round.

The flower tiles are numbered 1-4, which correspond to winds.  1=East, 2=South, 3=West, 4=North. 

To start a hand, players begin by mixing all of the tiles in the center of the table.  This is the noisy part.  When the tiles are reasonably mixed and unpredictable, each player begins constructing their side of the wall.  Each side is eighteen tiles wide and two tiles tall.  There is a skill involved in this, if you choose, because experienced mah jong players will construct two rows of 18 side by side, and then, by grabbing one row by each end, lift all eighteen tiles at once on top of the other row.  This is super cool.  You will be super cool if you do it like this.  All the old Chinese ladies and also your ten-year old cousins will be TOTALLY impressed.

Each wall is then pushed towards the center until they meet in something like a square.  It should look less like this:

and more like this:


It represents, of course, the great wall of China.

Once the wall is constructed, the dealer rolls three dice.  Starting with the nearest side, dealer counts that number counter-clockwise around the wall.  A dice roll of five, nine, and thirteen land on the side nearest the dealer.  A dice roll of three, seven, eleven, fifteen, land on the side opposite the dealer, and so on.  Once the side is chosen, starting on the right of the side, dealer counts the same number of tiles towards the middle.  Where the count ends, the wall "breaks."  Tiles to the right of the break are the "dead" tiles, and tiles to the right are "live."

Starting at the break of the wall, and going clockwise, the dealer takes the next four tiles from the live side, then hands out sets of four to the other players.  Tiles are taken from the wall clockwise, but are dealt to players counter-clockwise.  When each player has twelve tiles, the dealer "hops," and takes the next top tile, then the top tile one over from that tile.  Each next player then gets one more tile.  At the end of this, the dealer has 14 tiles, and everyone else has 13.  Dealer begins the game by discarding one extra tile.

When a player needs to replace a tile, for example, because they drew a flower, or made a kung, the replacement tile is drawn from the opposite end of the wall.

In all the computer versions I've played, whenever a player discards a tile, he/she announces what the tile is.  I don't remember if anyone ever did that in my house or not.  They talked.  I never understood anything they said.  Maybe they were saying "three-ten-thousand, bitches!" and maybe they were saying, "did I tell you what my grandson said to me yesterday?"  I have no idea.  But since I'm more used to playing with a computer, I'm used to hearing people announce their discard.  Or, at least, I'm used to mechanized voices repeating in monotone, red dragon, two bamboo, three character.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 3


Let's put some exceptions in!

FLOWER TILES:  Remember I mentioned flower tiles?  They look different in each set, but generally they look like flowers, or seasons, and might be numbered 1-4.  They are not part of your hand, so if you draw one from the wall, you put it aside and draw a replacement tile.  You keep the flower tile, because it might get you points if you win the hand, but it will not be part of any set. 

KUNG:  If you have in your hand, not facing up, three of a kind, and you either draw the fourth from the wall, or someone discards the fourth tile, you MAY choose to make a four of a kind.  This is called a kung.  If you do so, you declare "kung," turn the four tiles face up, and draw a replacement tile.  If you win the hand, your winning hand will be 15 tiles instead of 14.  You can only make a kung from a four of a kind; you cannot make a kung with consecutively numbered tiles.  You cannot turn a previously face-up pung into a kung.

And onto scoring:

Winning hands are scored with a point system.  Each player pays the winner according to the number of points in the winning hand.  The more points in a winning hand, the more money the player gets for the win.  This is where most of the strategy comes in, because higher value hands are harder to get, but winning one really good hand might be worth more than winning several chicken hands.

A hand with 0 points = chicken hand.

There are many ways to win points, some of them more common than others.  The ones I know are:

A. If all the sets of 3 are chow sets = 1 point
B.  If all the sets of 3 are pung sets = 3 points
C.  If one of the sets of 3 is of dragons  = 1 point
D.  If one of the sets of 3 is of a wind that corresponds to the seat of the player* = 1 point
E.  If one of the sets of 3 is of a wind that corresponds to the wind of the round = 1 point
F.  If the player drew a flower tile that corresponds to the seat of the player = 1 point
G.  If the player drew a flower tile that corresponds to the wind of the round = 1 point
H. If the winner drew the last tile needed to win from the wall = 1 point 

Points are accumulative.  If a hand satisfies more than one criteria for points, then it wins points for both those criteria.  For example, if the winning hand was all sets of pung, AND one of the sets was a green dragon, that would be 4 points total.

The winner is paid 2N in chips, where N=points.  Thus, a zero point hand is paid 1 chip, a 1-point hand is 2 chips, etc.  The winner is paid by the other three players.  If the winner drew the winning tile from the discard pile, then the person who discarded that tile pays double. If the winner drew the winning tile themselves from the wall, then all players pay them double.  (Since drawing the winning tile from the wall is already worth a point, this is really good.)

There are lists of prestige hands that I don't know.  These hands are special, named combinations that give you lots and lots and lots of points.  To give you an idea, it might be something called "Four Blessing Spring" and consist of "3 green dragons, 3 one-bamboos, 3 one-circles, 3 east-winds, and 2 south-winds."  And it would be worth, like, 12 points.  I made that particular one up, but they look sort of like that.  There are lists, somewhere, of the prestige hands.  I've never seen anyone get one.

*Don't worry, I haven't explained seating and winds yet.  I'll get to that.

ETA: OH HEY I've been reminded of more ways to win points:

I.  If the player did not have any tiles from their hand revealed prior to winning = 1 point
J.  If the entire winning hand is one suit plus honors tiles = 3 points
K.  If the entire winning hand is all from the same suit = 6 points

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 2


Mah jong is a game for four players, generally set up on a card table so that all players can reach the middle of the table, and each player has a side of the table to put their tiles so that other players can't see.

There are three areas of a mah jong table: the wall, the discard pile, and player's hands.  The wall is made up of tiles that are face down and have not yet been played.   The discard pile is in the middle of the wall, and the tiles are generally played face up when discarded.  (A more difficult version of the game involves the discard pile being face-down, so players must remember what has been played.)  Each player has a hand of tiles at the edge of the table facing them that no one else can see.  At various points in the game, players may need to show parts of their hand.  These tiles are generally placed, face up, in front of the player.

A mah jong tile set is like a deck of cards.  There are two main kinds of tiles: suits and honors.  Each suit consists of a tiles numbered consecutively from 1-9.  Honor tiles do not have numerical value.  There are also flower tiles, but they are set aside and used for scoring, rather than being part of gameplay.  I will get to them later.

There are three suits: bamboo, circle, and character.  The bamboo are represented by sticks of bamboo, the circle are, well, circles, and the character are the Chinese character for 1-9 followed by the character for ten-thousand.

There are two types of honor tiles: winds and dragons.  Wind tiles correspond with cardinal directions.  Dragon tiles are the characters for luck, middle (kingdom), and a blank tile.

Each tile appears four times in a mah jong set.  For example, there are four copies of a three-of-bamboo tile, and four copies of a north-wind tile.

The one-bamboo tile is illustrated with a bird, rather than a single stick of bamboo.  The white dragon tile sometimes has a decorated border around the blank white middle.

(My mother refers to the tiles by what the words say, rather than the names listed here.  For example, she will say "two ten thousand" and "luck" instead of "two character" or "green dragon."  Every other instruction set or game I've seen calls them "character" and "dragon")

A winning hand consists of four sets of three tiles, and one pair (called an "eye.")  A tile set consists of either three of a kind of the exact same tile (e.g. three North tiles, or three five-bamboo tiles) or three consecutive tiles within a suit (e.g. 2-3-4 bamboo or 4-5-6 circle).  Three of a kind is called "pung" and three consecutive tiles are called a "chow."  Sets can only exist within a suit. 

The top set is a correct "pung" of two-circles.

The top set is a correct "chow" of bamboo.  (3-4-5)

Because the honor tiles do not have numbers associated with them, they cannot be used in a chow.  They can only be used to make a pung.  An eye must be two matching tiles.

Here is an example of a winning hand:

From left to right: 1-2-3 character, 6-7-8 circle, three of a kind (south wind), three of a kind (5 circle), pair of 8-circle

Each player starts with 13 tiles in their hand.  A turn consists of drawing a tile to add to your hand, and then discarding a tile into the discard area.  Then the turn moves to the next person on the right.  (Game plays counter-clockwise.)

There are two ways to draw a tile: 1) on your turn, and 2) as an interrupt.

1.  ON YOUR TURN: you can either draw a tile from the wall, or, if you can use the previously discarded tile to make a set, you can take that tile from the discard pile. 
A.  You can only pick the tile that was most recently discarded, all other tiles in the pile are unusable. 

B.  You may only pick from the discard pile to complete a set of three or complete a winning hand.  If you do pick a discarded tile, you must then put the set you make face up in front of you.  Once your tiles are face up, you can no longer re-arrange them into different sets.

2.  INTERRUPT:  If a player discards a tile that you can use to complete a pung (three of a kind), you may declare "Pung" and take that tile.  Then put the set you just made face up, discard a tile, and play continues to your right.  You can do this no matter whose turn it was next.  You may also draw a tile as an interrupt if it is the last tile you need to win.  You may only claim the most recently discarded tile, and only before the next player draws.

If more than one player claims a discarded tile (for example, the player whose turn it is to draw claims the tile to make a chow, AND another player claims the tile to make a pung, AND another player claims the tile to make a winning hand), then the first priority goes to a player who has a winning hand, the second priority goes to a player who is making a pung.  If there are two players who both claim the tile to win, then the player whose turn was coming up sooner takes priority. 
The game continues in this fashion, drawing and discarding tiles, until a player draws the last tile they need for a winning hand.  The player says "mah jong," and flips all the tiles in their hand face up.  There is no discard at this time, as a winning hand is 14 tiles.  When a player wins, then a new hand begins.